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Byers' Beat: 'Tell the world what happened' | Child with special needs has message following alleged sexual assault

The 6-year-old child was riding his bike when he says a man sexually assaulted him in south St. Louis Sunday.

ST. LOUIS — The 6-year-old boy who told his mother he was sexually assaulted by a man who snatched him off his bicycle Sunday asked me to do something for him: Tell the world what happened, so it doesn’t happen again.

He is a child, who is high-functioning with special needs.

His mother, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, keeps a tracking device on him.

And he was out of her sight for less than three minutes at about 5 p.m. Sunday along Loran Street in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood when he told his mother a man sexually assaulted him near a dumpster behind a house under construction on their block.

His attention to detail – like the color of the shoelaces the man who hurt him was wearing, his burnt orange shirt and khakis – helped police quickly find surveillance images of the suspect from cameras the neighborhood has installed.

Investigators sent out those images and got more than 100 tips – ultimately arresting the 34-year-old suspect Thursday afternoon. Police plan to apply for charges against him with the Circuit Attorney’s Office Friday.

Moments before the arrest, St. Louis Sergeant Charles Wall did an interview with reporters about the case and the manhunt for the suspect involving officers from virtually every specialized unit.

“We’ve got investigators on this and it isn’t their normal responsibility,” Wall said. “We are utilizing every resource that we have to get boots on the ground in that area and try to do whatever we can to get the information that we need to ultimately find this individual.”

Wall also took the time to encourage parents to tell their children about the importance of avoiding strangers, that there is safety in numbers and to scream if someone ever tries to take them or touch them in a way that doesn’t make them comfortable.

On the evening of the alleged attack, children were out playing, people were tending to their yards and out for walks.

Then, the tone changed.

“There was a detective looking in the alley and I was out watering my garden and it struck me as odd,” one resident said, who did not want to be identified. “And so as the week went on, it became clearer based on the timing and the location and everything that that was the beginning of that investigation.”

The victim’s mother had bought a new bike for her son less than 24 hours before the alleged attack. He was riding it along the sidewalk, and back through the alley while his mother stood near a corner watching him along the sidewalk.

Another neighbor who knows the victim’s family said the area is in shock over how quickly it all happened.

“If there's one thing I can say, it's this can happen to anyone in the blink of an eye,” she said. “This lady is one of the best mothers I've ever known. She is vigilant and cautious and thinks of everything.”

The neighbor said the victim is like another grandchild to her, and his mother did an excellent job teaching him to tell her right away if anyone ever hurt him or touched him inappropriately.

The child’s mother and neighbor looked on in admiration as the child -- despite his developmental delays and young age – had the courage to tell a reporter to tell his story to the world.

So that maybe another parent would hear it, and have a talk with their child about what to do in a situation involving abuse.

So that maybe another victim would find the courage to come forward.

So that maybe it would never happen again.

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